Nice to see so much money so wisely invested

By now, you all know that the Creation “Museum” has plans to build what they think will be a full-size replica of the mythical Noah’s Ark, in order to fleece the drooling, uneducated rubes, of whom there are an unlimited supply. Setting aside exactly how he knows this replica will be authentic (hey, maybe the original had racing stripes — were you there?), it occurs to me that this could be a prime opportunity to do some actual science.

The first thing that should be done is that the ship should not have any modern construction methods brought to bear. The whole thing must be assembled by one old man (it’s unlikely we’ll find a 600-year old, but we’ll split the difference and hire a septuagenarian) using nothing but pitch and hand tools. (Gen. 6:14) Next, assemble all the animals as described in Genesis, and tow the monstrosity out into the middle of the Atlantic, where it will be left for ten months without any resupplying while all of the animals are cared for by a crew of four men and four women inhabiting a grand total of three decks. Assuming the ship floats at all, we’ll see who’s alive at the end of that time. Deal?

Oh, what’s that? This isn’t a scientific enterprise at all, but a theme attraction? But gosh, isn’t the whole sales pitch of Answers in Genesis that science is really on their side? What a fine, fine opportunity to make a real experiment out of all this. Just think of the look on that crusty old fellow Dawkins’ face when it’s all been proved! He’ll be crying into his tea and scones, the blighter! Praise Jesus.

You know, take a minute to think of what $24.5 million would mean to — oh, take your pick. Research in childhood leukemia. Feeding the homeless. Getting people clean and sober and helping them with job training. Christians go on and on about how much more they’re about the milk of human kindness and charity than anyone else. I don’t see anyone being helped by this at all, except Ken Ham and Ken Ham’s checking account. Like so many in the evangelical world, he plays multiple choice with his holy book.

Not quite the double standard you were thinking

Hey, kids. Yes, I’m back. Been back a few days in fact. And I’m finally ready to post again, so here’s my first, in reply to a letter received responding to the conversation with Behe fan “Garry” on the last show I did with Matt. Our correspondent begins:

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, and I am a friendly/open-minded agnostic theist. So with my introduction out of the way, here is my email:

In the Problem of Evil debate, skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence formulate their argumentation as follows:

(1) If there were an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful God, then (due to His unlimited knowledge and unlimited power) He would be able to prevent gratuitous/pointless evil and suffering that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(2) Because God would have such a capability, and because He is supposedly all-good, he would act on that capability and prevent the gratuitous/pointless suffering and evil that is not necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(3) But, there is lots of evils and sufferings that occur in the world (which have not been prevented by the supposed all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God), and much of it is not logically necessary for any adequately compensating good (and therefore seems to be gratuitous/pointless).

(4) Therefore, the conclusion is that there does not exist a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-good.

Now, many theists argue against the argument of ‘The Problem of Evil’ presented above by way of refuting premise (3) and saying that there is no evil that is gratuitous/pointless, and that all evil is logically necessary for adequately compensating goods. One of the ways in which they do this is by presenting ‘The Contrast Response,’ which basically says that if there were no evil in the world, we would not be aware of the good. God then allows evil to make us aware of goodness, since this awareness in itself is a good.

But, many skeptics and/or non-believers of God’s existence do not accept ‘The Contrast Response’ because they claim that it is not necessarily the case that our minds work this way. Essentially, they believe that we would still be aware of goodness even if there were less (or even no) evil to contrast it. So they say that ‘The Contrast Response’ is logically invalid.

That being said, I am assuming that you (Matt and Martin) are not exceptions (and have the same point of contention in regards to ‘The Contrast Response’).

So if I am actually correct about my assumption and your point of contention and belief that our minds don’t need contrasting things in order to be aware of (or recognize) non-contrasting things, why then (in episode # 660, which occurred on Sunday, 6/06/2010 and while responding to Garry from Manhattan, NY and his example of irreducibly complex systems) did you (Matt and Martin) flip the contrast response (which you do not accept as being valid in the problem of evil argument) around in order to claim (within the context of the argument of creationism) that in order to know if something was created, we have to first have an example of something that wasn’t created to compare it with (or contrast it to)? To me, this seems like a logically fallacious contradiction???

Our correspondent is wrong in his assumption of where I stand on “The Contrast Response.” I don’t reject the notion that a knowledge of the difference between good and evil is a vital element of ascertaining one’s moral positions. What I reject is the notion that an omnibenevolent God is necessary for such an understanding, especially one who would continue to allow gratuitous evils to occur long after the human race had well and truly understood those differences and had established laws to punish them. Why, in this day and age, would God allow (to use the most button-mashing of examples) the continued sexual abuse of children? Are there significant pockets of human civilization (apart from the Vatican) who still do not understand this is a deplorable act, and therefore, children must still be put through the anguish of sexual abuse in order to make those people aware of its evil, and of the goodness of not abusing children in contrast?

Another objection would be that, even if one accepts the notion of God’s allowing acts of evil in the world for the sake of “compensating goods” (and I don’t know that I accept the idea of non-victims of evil realizing how lucky they are to be a “compensating good”), this would still not absolve God of the moral responsibility to stop such acts of evil when he can. Honestly, in what way would God’s refusal to prevent the sexual abuse of a child — thereby presumably allowing us to experience the horror of the act so as to better appreciate it when children aren’t raped — constitute a better “compensating good” than for him simply to blast the assailant to smithereens with a well-aimed lightning bolt? Who would be sitting around thinking, “Gosh, I don’t understand, why did God do that to that poor man?”

Why establish good and evil as concepts if not to enforce them? A common argument in theodicy is that God must allow evil for an understanding of good. But how are we mere mortals expected to reach such an understanding if God doesn’t explain which is which and punish the evil when it happens? Instead, it seems we are meant to work it out for ourselves which are good and evil acts, as God apparently cannot interfere in the interests of not undermining our supposed free will.

The great irony of this form of theodicy is that it ends up rendering God irrelevant. Atheists and secular moralists do argue that we are the ones responsible for determining the differences between good and evil…but that we are perfectly capable of doing this by using our intellects and our empathy to evaluate the consequences of human actions, rejecting those which are destructive.

Any theodicy that proposes a God as the architect of moral precepts, only to immediately take Him out of the picture, leaving humanity to deal with good and evil on our own, pragmatic terms, might as well concede the argument and pack it in. A God who refuses to prevent gratuitous destructive acts for any reason is one who has, if He exists, surrendered His moral authority and is deserving of no thanks from us.

Additionally, even if I am wrong about my assumption [and you guys actually DO accept the contrast response as a good response to the problem of evil—or reject it for another reason that I have not presented above—(and therefore have not contradicted yourselves)], why do you even find the merit in asking a theist to provide an example of something that was not created, anyways? Essentially, asking a theist to provide an example of something that wasn’t created is unfair, because if he/she is a common theist and believes that God exists, he/she also believes that EVERYTHING [including natural things] in our physical universe was created by Him (which would mean that to the theist there would be no example of an uncreated thing that he/she could provide, because no such example would exist).

As such, the theist’s lack of ability to provide such an example does not prove (or even serve to insinuate) that there was no creator (or God). Moreover, it only further begs the question. So essentially, I think that asking Garry to provide such an example was an invalid (and therefore unnecessary) form of argumentation.

This is because, like Garry, you fail to understand that a key component of any scientific hypothesis — which is what ID wants to be — is falsifiability. In order to determine if your hypothesis is even valid in its basic premises, you have to be able to answer this question: “If what I am proposing is not true, what conditions would I expect to find existing today?” Therefore someone insisting that life was intelligently designed must be able to answer, “If life were not designed, what would it look like?” It’s hardly unfair or invalid. It’s basic science.

And y
es, this question has been answered in regards to evolution, and very simply. When asked what he thought would falsify evolution, biologist J.B.S. Haldane answered simply, “Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.” If anything in the fossil record were not where it was supposed to be in the timeline, this would be a problem. But it has not been a problem. Indeed, evolutionary theory has been validated many times in its predictive power, another important factor establishing scientific validity. Tiktaalik was found right where paleontologists were sure a certain transitional fossil of its type would have to be found if it existed at all.

If insisting that Garry state the way in which ID or any other design hypothesis was falsifiable was “unfair,” it can only be in the way a scientifically illiterate fellow set himself up to be humiliated in his ignorance on live television. But that’s hardly our fault. If some creationist calls us, trying to peddle an inferior product, and proceeds to lecture authoritatively on a subject about which he is in fact ignorant, a little humiliation is the least he has coming.

We get email: another creationist punching bag

So today, there’s a fellow who’s shown up in our inboxes claiming, at different times, to be a “Christian Psychiatrist” (both words capitalized), a neuroscientist, and a physician, though his nick is “risky-kid,” which doesn’t sound like any doctor I want to see. I call bullshit. But maybe the guy got his degrees from Patriot University and that’s how they do things. Anyway, he caught me at the right time, and so if you wish to amuse yourself reading my beatdown, here ’tis. I’m in italics.


Caveat: you are likely to find the tone of this response extremely condescending and rude. This isn’t an apology, merely a heads-up. I’m afraid public displays of smug ignorance bring out the worst in me. It’s not a thing I feel I need to work on.

From:
Subject: RE: I am a thiest I come in peace
To: [email protected]
Date: Thursday, May 13, 2010, 4:37 PM

My approach it an integrative evidence based approach, in which scripture and nature rightly understood always harmonize. If there are apparent contradictions I look for errors in both my understanding of scripture and my understanding of nature. I have found errors in both places over time.

What is your basis for considering scripture valid as evidence of anything in the first place?

I find Darwinian evolution held together only by an insistence on forcing evidence to be interpreted in ways that are favorable to that theory rather than actually letting the evidence speak for itself.

Good for you, but that only shows you fail to understand the evidence for evolution and how it shores up the theory.

The list of scientific evidence which refutes Darwinian evolution is enormous, but this email isn’t a place for me to recite all of such evidence.

Nope. Sorry. You don’t get to show up here and spout the same tired creationist canards without backing them up. And yes, we’re aware that there are loads of creationist websites out there making arguments against evolution that sound very scholarly and scientific. But has any of their research actually been reproduced by other people without an agenda to push? Where are the peer-reviewed articles demonstrating that evolution by natural selection has been refuted? I mean in legitimate, recognized scientific journals, not those the creationists print up to circulate amongst themselves.

Those biased by years of evolutionary education however have failed to see how subjective their thinking has become and instead criticize any interpretation that deviates from the “accepted” norm as “blind” or “faith” based.

Perhaps the “accepted norm” is “accepted” because it’s what the evidence actually supports. Seriously, you started out with basic scientific illiteracy and now you’re projecting the attitudes of creationists onto scientists, and you’re not even trying not to be lame about it.

Sorry, but until you show you actually know a damn thing about evolutionary biology, I see no reason to take any of this drivel seriously. If you wish any credibility for your claim that you have “read widely in the scientific literature”, simply demonstrate that you’re right and that you have the expertise you claim to have. Here is your assignment:

1. Explain endogenous retroviruses using the evolutionary model.
2. Explain the creationist alternative.
3. Demonstrate precisely how the latter refutes the former, with citations.
Extra Credit: Submit your work to Nature and win a Nobel Prize.

But when one has already concluded that creation didn’t happen, and evolution did, then all the evidence is filtered through a bias which prevents real learning.

Yeah, again, you seem to have covered the whole subject of projection pretty well in your training to be a “Christian Psychiatrist”. Of course, it could never be the case that someone who has already concluded there’s an invisible magic man in the sky filters evidence through that preconception, and has “real learning” prevented thereby.

As a physician, and particularly a neuroscientist, I do find the common theory that the brain evolved over millions of years to be unscientific.

Then I’m going to take a wild guess and conclude that you’re either A) not a neuroscientist B) a lousy neuroscientist.

I have never seen one scientific experiment, reproducible, in which any species, by forces of nature and environment grew new lobes onto its brain. This is what is commonly taught in the neuro literature and I ask what evidence to support this – of course there is none.

I thought you were familiar with the scientific literature. It took me precisely 2 seconds to Google this.

But tell me, where are the reproducible experiments that have shown Godidit? I mean, clearly, the scientific literature must be overflowing with them. Or is it that the Big Science Conspiracy has struck again, I wonder?

Really, only three things need to exist for evolution to occur, and they’re all things that we know exist: Sexual reproduction, heritable variation, and selection pressure. Perhaps you have some research that shows none of those things come into play in the process after all…?

Another equally resonable intepretation of the evidence is that a designer built and expanded His design to create variations on a theme. When we consider all the vehicles on the road from carts, to carriages, to bicycles, to autos, trucks etc. We can see various elements in common to all and order them from simple to complex, yet none would argue that these vehicles evolved on their own, all would rightly realize that designers included elements that are essential to the function of each (wheels) etc.

Yeah yeah yeah. And if you found a watch on the beach…

Honestly, there are 18-year-old biology freshmen who could explain selection to you. You’re making the basic creationist fallacy of comparing artifacts to natural organisms. The development from simplicity to complexity in evolutionary science really is Biology 101 stuff, and very widely understood by those, unlike you, actually versed in the field. Seriously, your remedial education begins here.

If that doesn’t interest you, then demonstrate, please, that the concept of a designer is scientifically falsifiable. What would a non-designed lifeform look like?

Therefore, I do not believe science has provided reasonable evidence to conclude a naturalistic explanation, and rather I find the weight of evidence for a designer

Huh? Then where is that evidence? All you’ve shown us is what you consider “reasonable interpretations” of evidence you haven’t even convinced us you understand at a baseline level. (Indeed you’ve shown pretty unambiguously that you don’t.) And all you backed that up with is whining about how you think scientists are all biased and subjective for not seeing your god in everything. You also seem to think that “integrating” modern scientific evidence with the writings of a Bronze Age holy book produced by an ignorant, pre-scientific, and primitive culture that barely even had indoor plumbing to be a valid approach to researching this vast and complex field. Which, frankly, makes about as much sense as figuring out how to get a girlfriend by integrating your actual interactions with women with the experiences of Archie and Peter Parker in comic books. In other words, you have something of a credibility deficit here.

and in fact find two antagonistic principles at play throughout the entire earth ecosystem – what I term the law of love, which is the principle of life, and the survival of the fittest principle (fear and selfishness) which is an infection which damages and brings death. Viruses, as I see it are examples of the infection to creation which damages and destroys, their very function is merely self replication and take without giving, and results in destroying the host and
itself in the end. This is exactly what sin is and does, selfishness, taking, destorying and dying.

Well I guess I have gone on long enough.

Long enough for me to conclude you are either not being truthful about being an actual neuroscientist widely read in the literature, or that academic standards for people in your profession have crashed through the floor. Perhaps you got your degree from Patriot University?

McLeroy’s moronity gets press across the pond

Just in time for the end of his SBOE career, Texas’ moron du jour Don McLeroy is profiled in this piece in the Times. Unlike the mealy-mouthed faux journalism of the US, where everyone is expected to play nice and all views no matter how foolish are to be accorded “respect,” McLeroy here is unambiguously painted as a pants-on-head ignorant ideologue openly attempting to politicize education. Just another reason to be grateful he’s been shown the door.

“I love science,” he protests. Of course you do, Mac. Like priests love kids.

Denyse O’Leary supplants Ray Comfort as World’s Stupidest Christian™

After holding the title courageously for most of his adult life, Ray Comfort has been forced to relinquish his unofficial designation of World’s Stupidest Christian™. Meet the newly crowned title-holder, Denyse O’Leary, whose risible record of attempted evolution denial has leveled up into heretofore unexplored realms of awesomeness with this quoted passage, which simply must be read to be believed. Warning: you will lose about 20 IQ points just reading this, but the fact you won’t be able to stop laughing for a week should, one hopes, compensate.

Congratulations, Denyse, the new reigning World’s Stupidest Christian™! Take a bow.

McLEROY IS OUT!

Okay, we had Rethuglican primaries here in Texas yesterday, and there is some good news to report on the SBOE front. What rocks is the upset of Don McLeroy by his opponent, Thomas Ratliff. It was a near thing, only an 800-vote spread, which just goes to show how powerful the extremists among the just-don’t-give-a-shit-what-anyone-thinks right wing still are, despite McLeroy’s shameless track record of turning Texas into a global laughingstock during his tenure. Now I’m sure the Ol’ Boy Network will kick in, and Rick Perry — who, I’m sorry to say, almost certainly will win another term — will find Mac something to do. But at least we won’t have to gawp at this mustachioed moron as he boldly stands up to the experts at SBOE hearings anymore.

Now, other seats look a little dicey. Ken “Piltdown Man” Mercer easily squashed his opponent, Tim Tuggey, which blows. And the vacancy left by überloon Cynthia Dunbar has come down to a runoff between Marsha Farney and Dunbar’s hand-picked mini-me, Brian Russell. So we have to hope things go Farney’s way, because District 10 will go Republican in the general election and any Democratic or progressive indie candidate cannot be expected to have a hope.

There’s more possible not-so-good news in the loss of another incumbent, Geraldine Miller, to her challenger, George Clayton. Clayton, on first blush, doesn’t look bad, with his harsh criticisms of teaching to standardized tests rather than actually engaging students to learn for real. But sadly, he is also on record boasting that he is “an educator” and then promptly pissing that cred away by saying, “It’s an impossibility to talk about evolution without mentioning creationism,” forever branding him an assclown. (Inasmuch as one might say, “Evolution is true and creationism is retarded,” George is essentially right, but I suspect that isn’t what he means.) Sorry, George, but when you’re asked a simple no-DUH question about the age of the Earth, you don’t lapse into mindless spinspeak like “I’m not going to cut [the Earth] in half and count the rings,” not after bragging that you’re supposed to be a fucking “educator,” goddammit. You answer that question by saying, “Between 4-5 billion years…next?” unless you want to be sent to the corner in the pointy hat. The last thing we need on the SBOE is another uneducated “educator.”

So it’s hardly a clean sweep for reason and intelligence in the primaries. Ratliff could turn into the Manchurian Candidate all on his own. Yet it ain’t over till it’s over. Dems and independents could still have a chance to rally voters and cause some upsets down the road in the general election.

But damn!…McLEROY’S OUT! And that alone makes me ready to throw a block party. Hopefully Texas has decided it’s ready to start evolving after all.

Ill-educated fools in charge of education

Yes, it’s another Don McLeroy post. This Washington Monthly piece is currently making the rounds. If you haven’t seen it, you aren’t aware of just how bad things are in Texas.

Seriously, this will make you ill. Is there no depth to the ideological delusions cretins like this want to enshrine in our schools? Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical.

In honor of McLeroy, and inspired by one of PZ’s headlines today, I thought I’d create a little article of anticreowear, for all your scientifically sartorial needs. I plan to wear mine proudly. Those of you obsessed with the whole “civility” thing will clutch your pearls and admonish me sternly about it, I’m sure. Go ahead and take your concern as noted in advance. Read the attached article — shit, just read the first two paragraphs — and you’ll understand, I hope, why I’m beyond any pretense of civility with the likes of McLeroy.

Sumerians Look On In Confusion As Christian God Creates World

Apparently, God creating the world 6,000 years ago was a big surprise to the ancient civilizations who were already living on it. Or so reports the Onion.

“I do not understand,” reads an ancient line of pictographs depicting the sun, the moon, water, and a Sumerian who appears to be scratching his head. “A booming voice is saying, ‘Let there be light,’ but there is already light. It is saying, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass,’ but I am already standing on grass.”

“Everything is here already,” the pictograph continues. “We do not need more stars.”

Email: Why can’t science ever prove God?

Andrew writes:

I’ve stumbled across your show and personal beliefs aside, I just have to say that people are really stupid. As a Catholic, I’m ashamed of the logic of Christians trying to prove the existence of God as it presents itself on your show. I do have a question which I don’t get about what atheists state: God can never be proven through science. If something exists, it can be proven. Yet with the logic that the Christians use, they change Christian belief and twist it into personal assumptions rather than going by fundamental doctrine. I guess my questions are: 1) Why can’t science ever prove God? ; 2) What, besides God walking up to you, can be proof for the existence of God?

And by God, I mean a physical entity that can come down and walk amongst us, wrestle with us and looks like us. Basically, if you stood next to God, you’d see that humans were created to be in the image of God. I know how you love to get definitions of God.

Andrew,

You have to understand that we can only respond to claims that we are offered about God, and there are thousands of conflicting versions of God. I know many atheists have put forth the case that God should be possible to investigate through science, and have suggested specific ways that the claim could be testable.

However, to understand how much the waters have been muddied, you ought to familiarize yourself with the history of the creationism movement. A hundred years ago, it was illegal to teach evolution in schools at all. By the 1960’s, evolution was accepted as standard science. However, there was a movement to demand that creationism must be taught as science by law. This was finally rejected because creationism, at the time, was considered purely religion with no scientific merit.

So in the mid 60’s there was a push to create “scientific creationism.” At the time, creationists still attempted to make testable claims, generally centered around a literal interpretation of the Bible. For instance, they attempted to prove that the global flood was real. But the problem with such specific claims is that science can not only test them; it can prove them wrong. And it did, which eventually led to more legislative defeats for creationists.

Since that time, creationists have gotten a lot more crafty in trying to advance a watered down form of creationism in schools. The 1990’s saw the rise of “intelligent design” which, while heavily borrowing elements of traditional creationism, made the definition of “the designer” continually more vague and without specific testable claims. In their effort not to be labeled as yet another drive to teach religion in schools, they refuse to say anything specific about God. They just say “we logically infer that there must be a designer” and they don’t propose any claims about what the designer is like or how he could be tested.

This achieves the objective of being harder to counter with observable facts, yes, but it also renders meaningless any efforts to actually investigate “God” or some other sort of designer.

So can science investigate God? It depends, of course. If the concept of God is attached to specific claims about the way he interacts with the world, then yeah, you’re right, that God should in principle be testable. Of course, no scientific investigations have ever revealed anything like the God of the Bible.

But on the other hand, when people propose a God that is deliberately made vague, that is untestable. An amorphous “intelligent designer” can’t be investigated, and as I’ve explained, that is pretty much on purpose. Likewise, vague claims like “God is love” or “God is a universal consciousness” don’t lend themselves easily to testing. If we ever said that God is not a scientific concept, you can bet that we were probably responding specifically to a person who was advancing this kind of nonspecific notion of God.

As for your second question: “What, besides God walking up to you, can be proof for the existence of God?” Well, I mean, God walking up to me would be a pretty good one. It’s not even all that outlandish a request. After all, according to the Bible, God used to appear to people all the time. He talked to Moses in a burning Bush, he showed his puncture wounds to Doubting Thomas, he dropped in on Saul of Tarsus, he told Abraham to kill his son (before going on to say “just kidding!”).

If God is bothered by the existence of atheists, then clearly he knows how to fix that. What’s weird is that God is seemingly so selective. A few scattered people get to have a fireside chat with God. The rest of us apparently have to make do with clearly apocryphal stories about the appearances, and believe blindly with no such concrete evidence whatsoever. If this is the way God works, then either he enjoys playing mind games with the millions of atheists on the planet, or else he really does want them to remain atheists.

As for me, I don’t think there is a god. If it turns out I’m wrong, he knows where I live.

This just in: Dunbar not running for another SBOE term

From a TFN email I just got:

We wanted TFN members and supporters to be among the first to learn about developing news at the State Board of Education. News reports today revealed that Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, has decided not to run for re-election to her seat on the Texas State Board of Education. As TFN members know full well, Dunbar has been an outspoken leader of the far-right faction on the board, repeatedly using the state’s public school classrooms to wage her own personal culture war.

While Dunbar has not yet revealed the reason for her decision, her extremist track record has clearly made her a damaged brand in next year’s election — and TFN has been the leader in exposing that record.

  • TFN introduced the world to Dunbar’s 2008 book, One Nation Under God, in which she called public education a “tool of perversion,” “tyrannical” and unconstitutional.
  • TFN broke the story about Dunbar’s attacks against then-candidate Barack Obama, authoring an opinion column that labeled him a terrorist sympathizer who wanted another attack on America so that he could declare martial law and throw out the Constitution.
  • TFN exposed her efforts to politicize our children’s social studies classrooms and to promote creationist arguments against evolution in science classrooms.

Unfortunately, the candidate Dunbar has handpicked to be her successor shares many of her anti-science and extremist views. A blog post today at TFN Insider reveals some troubling information about Brian Russell, whom Dunbar has apparently recruited to fill her shoes on the board. So our work is not done.

Dealing with right-wing creationist d-bags is like playing Whack-A-Mole. But you gotta keep whacking.